Article archive

December 19, 1996

  • The Village Genius

    Anne Barton

    There are certain poets—Spenser is one—with whom other poets, whatever the prejudices or inattention of the critics, have conspicuously kept faith. After his death in 1599 (when, according to Camden, contemporary writers symbolically threw not only verses but their pens into the grave), Spenser’s general reputation slowly declined. It was with the practitioners that he continued to be important:Milton and Dryden, the young Keats, who was ...

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  • A Banner With a Strange Device

    James Fenton

    …He declared that he was above all an advocate for American art. He didn’t see why we shouldn’t produce the greatest works in the world. We were the biggest people, and we ought to have the biggest conceptions. The biggest conceptions of course would bring forth in time the biggest performances. We had to be true to ourselves, to pitch in and not be afraid, to fling Imitation ...

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  • Mother Teresa

    Christopher Hitchens

    To the Editors:

    Since the letter from Simon Leys [“In Defense of Mother Teresa,” NYR, September 19] is directed at myself rather than at your reviewer, may I usurp the right to reply?

    In my book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa In Theory and Practice, I provide evidence that Mother Teresa has consoled and supported the rich and powerful, allowing them all manner of indulgence, while preaching obedience and resignation ...

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  • But Is It True?

    Richard Jenkyns

    According to Heinrich Schliemann’s keenest detractors, his life was not merely stranger than fiction; it was fiction. But the facts accepted even by those who most strongly suspect his honesty make an amazing story. Born in poverty in 1822, the son of a dissolute and lecherous Lutheran pastor in the eastern German town of Neubukow, he made himself immensely rich through the indigo trade in Russia, dealing in gold ...

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  • The Second Oldest Profession

    Murray Kempton

    The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd was in Georgia on election night brightening up the night watch over Newt Gingrich’s uneasiness. As is the usual case for communions with good girls and most especially with more than semidivine ones like Dowd, the talk drifted to the woes of woman as brought vividly back to mind by Benazir Bhutto’s defrocking as Pakistani prime minister.

    The offenses that brought ...

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  • High in the Lower Depths

    Nicholas Lemann

    Most discussion of the black urban underclass is statistical or otherwise theoretical and removed, treating it as if it were life on an inaccessible planet. What makes Rosa Lee, Leon Dash’s report on a particular Washington ghetto family, so convincing and so valuable is his intimacy with his subjects, an intimacy that very few writers about the underclass have ever achieved. Dash had to do his work in neighborhoods ...

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  • Murder and Memory

    Hilary Mantel

    There are no fewer than five epigraphs by way of introduction; it is understandable that Margaret Atwood should hesitate on the brink, before launching herself into the powerful currents of her latest novel. Her chapter headings take their titles from the names of quilt patterns. This would be a worn and dangerously cosy device, if the names themselves were not so shudderingly evocative. There is peril here: Jagged Edge, Snake ...

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  • Israel and the End of Zionism

    Amos Elon

    In the seclusion of a cardiac clinic outside Vienna, a few months before he died there in 1904, Theodor Herzl, the father of secular Jewish nationalism, set down his thoughts on the Zionist movement he had founded in 1896. It would undoubtedly triumph, he thought. In fifty years’ time, at the very latest, there would be a Jewish state. In an ironic aside, he added, “Don’t commit any follies ...

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  • Gorbachev: Lingering Mysteries

    Jack F. Matlock Jr.

    While Mikhail Gorbachev was in control of the Soviet state, three events transformed the world’s political landscape: the cold war and the division of Europe ended; the Soviet Union and most of the countries allied with it ceased to be ruled by their Communist parties; and finally the Soviet state itself collapsed, fragmenting into fifteen sovereign successors.

    Gorbachev was at the center of the political storms that produced these ...

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  • The Cambodian Tragedy, Cont’d

    William Shawcross

    During a visit to Phnom Penh after my article on Cambodia appeared in these pages,[^*] the country seemed more perplexing than ever. The press there expresses all sorts of opinions, and is usually free to criticize the government, but not without terrible risks—editors have been physically threatened for their dissenting opinions, and some have been shot, as happened in the case of Thun Bun Ly, whose murder I described ...

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  • Magnificent Obsession

    Geoffrey O’Brien

    Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is no less strange and singular now than on its original appearance in 1958. Visible for years only in a cramped, splotchy, and faded video transfer, it has now been rereleased in wide-screen proportions, brilliantly restored colors, and almost too brilliantly restored sound (each passing thud and squeak carries almost as much sonic weight as Bernard Herrmann’s incomparable score). If Vertigo at first aroused at ...

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  • Not Cricket

    David Coady, reply by Steve Jones

    To the Editors:

    Steve Jones endorses [NYR, October 17] Stephen J. Gould’s claim that the lack of .400 hitters in baseball over the last half century is not attributable to a lack of great hitters, but to improvements in fielding and pitching. The consequence of overall improvement is a reduction of the standard deviation of batting averages amongst professional baseballers.

    Jones is mistaken, however, when he goes on to ...

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  • The Historian’s Freedom

    Abraham H. Foxman

    To the Editors:

    In his review of David Irving’s Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich [NYR, September 19] Gordon Craig astonishingly attempts to demonstrate that the book has merit despite its invidious purpose and dubious historical methods. Craig himself notes at the outset that Irving’s “obtuse and quickly discredited views…have proven to be offensive to large numbers of people.” Yet in his zeal to defend the right ...

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  • The Power of Chastity

    Fiona MacCarthy

    Sister Wendy Beckett has been becoming a curious cult figure in Britain over the past year. She is a nun in her mid-sixties who lives in a trailer on the grounds of a Carmelite con-vent in Norfolk when she is not otherwise engaged in making films about art history for BBC television. Sister Wendy is the Lord Clark de nos jours. The BBC takes her around Europe from gallery to ...

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  • Social Security and Its Discontents

    Jeff Madrick

    America, the writer Sam Beard, an inner-city organizer turned fiscal conservative, indulges in a few tricks of the political pamphleteer’s trade. “It’s time to stop relying on government for handouts. It’s time to break the bonds of dependence on Washington,” he tells us. “There’s a better way. We are a prosperous, industrious nation, and we are capable of instituting a plan that can—quite literally—turn ...

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  • Working with Laing

    Clancy Sigal, reply by Rosemary Dinnage

    To the Editors:

    I am the (un-named) ex-member of R.D. Laing’s Kingsley Hall “who wrote a satirical novel about his stay…,” cited by Rosemary Dinnage in her informative review of books by Daniel Burston and Bob Mullan about Dr. Laing [NYR, November 14]. I would like to offer an alternative view of Laing and his work, based upon my years of working with his Philadelphia Association and its ...

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  • The Art & Politics of the Nativity

    Garry Wills

    Ten years ago, my wife and I, passing through Italy shortly after Christmas, were surprised at the omnipresence of ambitiously staged Nativity scenes—what the French call crèches, the Spanish belenes, the Germans Krippen, Americans cribs or crèches, but the Italians presepi (the plural of presepio

    It seemed a good idea to spend a whole Christmas season in Italy traveling about to look at presepi. We did not suspect what ...

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  • Last Chance for Bosnia?

    Warren Zimmermann

    Just before World War I the Balkans erupted in two consecutive conflicts. In the first Balkan war in 1912, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro—all of which had won their independence from Turkey—joined to drive the Turks from Macedonia, the last Turkish foothold in the region. A year later, in 1913, the Serbian and Bulgarian victors fell out between themselves. In a short and savage war the Serbs defeated ...

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  • The Risks of Witness

    Jonathan D. Spence

    With this, the third book that Harry Wu has published about China’s forced-labor prison camp system, we can see that he has been moving on a discernible trajectory, one that has taken him from the world of reality to the world of appearance. In this, we might observe, he seems to mirror the temper of the times, and especially our current approaches to politics and to foreign policy.

    Wu ...

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